World Health Day: depression, refugees, and the Gospel

Middle East (MNN) — Today is World Health Day, and this year, the United Nations is focusing on mental health and depression. These issues are timely, since John Ramey with Frontiers USA says the refugee crisis in the Middle East is generating an entire people group with high levels of depression and mental health trauma.

(Photo courtesy of Frontiers USA)

“About one-third of the refugee population demonstrates signs of significant depression. Out of those one-third, there are more severe cases — those that have been tortured or abused or raped — and those are very serious and needing serious medical [and] mental health intervention.

“We do work with a psychiatrist who travels a lot with me to work with our teams. He’s been a great benefit in helping people in general with depression, and then also the more serious cases, making sure they get medical intervention.”

One refugee demographic Ramey says is especially susceptible to mental health trauma is refugee men.

“The UN informs us that the suffering of the men refugees is very, very pointed and there isn’t very much directed to help them. These men have lost their family home or apartment or whatever was handed down to them. People came in and invaded their space, they couldn’t protect their family, many times their wife or mother or daughter was violated, they feel very humiliated, now they’ve been displaced in a country where they can’t legally work, they feel a lot of shame and resentment and it’s very difficult.

“Many of them are coping by this spirit of revenge and actually traveling back into Syria to fight in one of the many rebel groups that get paid for this. But it’s a big issue with how we help the men.”

(Photo courtesy of Frontiers USA)

When it comes to addressing depression, anxiety, and mental health issues among refugees, the task can seem overwhelming. But Ramey notes the experience of Mother Teresa, when she was resisting her calling, and the Lord convicted her with the realization that “there’s only one person — that’s the person you’re with. You help that person, and then you let [God] give you the next one.”

He says that’s how Frontiers and their ministry partners are approaching refugees. “I think the only way to handle that is one-by-one. I’m very proud of the Body of Christ. I go to the Middle East about every three months and I always see a flow of Christian people from different parts of the world that are coming and trying to help and do something. This tells us how important the refugees are to the Lord, that people are giving up on other things and becoming available to help short-term or longer-term with the refugees.”

Partner ministries with Frontiers provide art therapy, put on concerts, give counseling, and coordinate events for refugee men, women, and children.

In everything they do, the Gospel is the driving force. So how does the Gospel come into play with refugees who have suffered in unimaginable ways?

“The Gospel does bring hope — to be able to cling to the promise of eternity and to cling to Jesus Christ who gave us that promise — because otherwise the despair can be so black. You know, ‘Is this going to be my life?’ Because now it’s pretty clear that the refugees are not going to be returning home anytime soon.”

Ramey explains, “Originally, a couple years ago, we would visit a refugee home, and they would just ask us for help for that one month, because they would say, ‘Oh, next month we’re going back. We’re going back to Syria next month.’ Everybody had that hope. Now, you don’t hear that anymore, and this is very difficult. So talking about the future that we see in the Gospel is very, very important.”

Forgiveness among refugee communities is also necessary for emotional healing, he says. “Instead of the anger and the bitterness and the revenge that can take a hold of people as a way of coping with their losses — talking about forgiveness and not holding on to their anger, but forgiving [leads to] releasing that burden from them. We have seen remarkable things happen when we have the opportunity to teach what the Gospel says about forgiveness.”

(Photo courtesy of Frontiers USA)

And then there’s also the sense of community that comes when a refugee accepts Christ as their Savior and is folded into the Body of Christ. The truth of God the Father is comforting, and the Great Commission changes their perspective.

“The Gospel brings a sense of purpose. We see people getting better when they reach out to others in some way…. We encourage them in our discipleship training that, whatever they know or they’re learning about the Bible or about Jesus, that they share it with others. This sense of purpose is invigorating to many people.”

On this year’s World Health Day, there are several things you can do.

You can raise awareness and advocate for refugees and the trauma they’ve experienced. Support missions like Frontiers that are sending in the Gospel to Muslims and refugee communities, and others that are providing trauma counseling and therapy for those who have survived the horrors of war in the Middle East.

You can also look up local Christian refugee ministries like Bethany Christian Services and find out what they need — baby supplies, gently-used clothing, monetary donations — so you can love on resettled refugees in the name of Christ.

“We need to look at human beings as eternal, immortal, and this great disruption that’s come to the Middle East — if it is God’s way of bringing peoples to Christ that have been outside of Christ — then of course it’s worth it. So we must prepare ourselves for the ministry that God may be giving us if refugees come to our locales.”

You can also look into going and serving refugees overseas! Ramey says, “People could contact Frontiers if they’re interested in accompanying some of us on our trips and taking a look.”

And, especially pray for:

First responders — “If you work with refugees and you hear story-after-story, it has a great effect upon you. We need to pray for spiritual strength, for people to have the grace of God to continue in that work of visiting refugees and meeting their needs.”

The Church in the Middle East — “Sadly, most of the Evangelical churches in the Middle East are not very involved in the refugee crisis, and there’s a lot of reasons for this. There’s political reasons, there’s deep difficulty in the relationship between the small Christian minority in these countries and the large Muslim majority. There’s a lot of bad feelings and a lot of bad stories. So we need to pray for revival in the churches that would result in a new wave of compassion, and also that God would give them the strategy they need to work with Muslim peoples.”

The Great Commission — “Pray in general for Jesus Christ to be praised in all the earth…. God operates on a scale of values — that the issues of eternity have more weight to Him than what people might suffer in this life. That’s a very clear thing in the Bible. It’s hard for us to get our minds around it sometimes, but we need to cooperate with Him in, again, believing the Gospel and knowing we must get the Gospel to as many people as we can.”